`Plans' for the mainstream

New on CD

September 01, 2005|By Mikel Jollett | Mikel Jollett,LOS ANGELES TIMES

It is nice when the good guys finally win. For the past four years, the thoughtful, precious and slightly odd cadence of independent rock 'n' roll has been steadily growing on the mainstream. It has not quite been a revolution, the way it was with Nirvana; it is more like a fungus that has slowly taken over the area once reserved for nu-metal and its itinerant goatees, baseball caps and feckless pleas to break stuff.

Death Cab for Cutie's Plans marks a turning point in contemporary mainstream rock, as it is the first album of its sort (one made by former college/indie rock heroes) to enjoy a highly anticipated release without any past radio airplay to speak of. The irony, of course, is that the Seattle-based band reached such rarefied heights by signing on with a major label, and by virtue of its heavy exposure on the prime-time soap The O.C. Both of these things were once unthinkable in the indie-rock world.

The record itself is a sad and touching meditation on death and distance, handled with a light melodic touch. "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" and "Someday You Will Be Loved" showcase singer Ben Gibbard's knack for writing reflective songs in complete sentences. Throughout the record there is the sense that an intelligent mind is going to work on immutable emotions ranging from heartache to grief, finding no answers and little comfort in reason.

By the time the record reaches "What Sara Said," a stark and vivid story set in a hospital waiting room, it is clear that the appeal of Death Cab for Cutie is the band's outright honesty. In a world where everything can seem so planned, targeted, packaged and marketed, how refreshing that kids are embracing something that is not. Even if all they stand to break is their hearts.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Death Cab for Cutie

Plans (Atlantic Records) *** (3 stars)

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